ROXBURY, N.J. - Roxbury Township Manager Christopher Raths said Wednesday he will retire in the spring, leaving a position he's held for 16 years.
In a press release, Raths said the decision to retire didn't come easy.
"Leaving this position was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made,” Raths said. “I do so with a great sense of accomplishment and with the confidence that I am leaving the township in a better place with a strong financial position and a capable and talented municipal staff that is dedicated to the future of this terrific community.”
In the release, Roxbury Mayor Jim Rilee praised the manager, noting he's worked with Raths for all of his 16 years as manager. "He has been a real asset to Roxbury from his first day on the job," Rilee said. "While we are sorry to see him retire, we respect his decision and are grateful for his many years of service and dedication to the township and its citizens.”
Raths, who was raised in Alabama and was paid $160,000 by Roxbury, served as a municipal manager for towns in North Carolina and Massachusetts before being hired by Roxbury in 2001.He said he plans to stay living in Roxbury with his wife, Alison. The Raths raised two daughters in Roxbury, the retirement announcement said.
In the statement, Raths cited a number of accomplishments, including Roxbury's tax rate, one of the state’s lowest, its good bond ratings, municipal services, park systems and overall quality of life.
The announcement also noted that Raths was named “Business Person of the Year” by the Roxbury Area Chamber of Commerce in 2011. Raths attends most Chamber meetings as well as those of the Roxbury Rotary Club, of which he is also a member.
As he pointed out recently Raths again noted "favorite and most meaningful volunteer work" takes place each year during the annual "Roxbury Day of Service” an event that took place on Saturday. “The reason I like the Day of Service is because it is organized entirely by residents to help the township’s senior citizens and less fortunate,” Raths said.
All was not easy-going during Raths' tenure, particularly in recent years as the township found itself in the middle of a major controversy surrounding botched plans to convert the long-dormant Fenimore Landfill into a solar energy "farm." Fill material brought to the site for the project began rotting, emitting noxious hydrogen sulfide fumes throughout much of Roxbury and eventually requiring the state to seize the land in 2013, cover the fill material and install expensive odor treatment equipment that remains on the site.
Raths, and other members of the local government, were often criticized by angry residents who were not happy with the township's handling of the situation. At many Roxbury Mayor and Council meetings during the past several years, Raths found himself defending Roxbury's actions and vowing he, as well as the elected officials, were doing all possible to protect the health and welfare of residents living near the dump.
The public criticism dwindled significantly this year and recent council meetings have been devoid of Fenimore-related comments by members of the public. The issue, still in the courts, is rarely mentioned anymore at meetings, where Raths presents updates of various goals and projects being handled by his staff.
“During good times and bad, Chris has been a steady hand managing the township,” said Rilee, who, himself, was often the subject of harsh criticism due to the Fenimore matter.
Raths these days often says one of his goals is to help improve Roxbury's sense of identity, noting that many people - even residents - identify more with their localities than with the township as a whole. This concern was reflected in Raths' retirement announcement.
“Whether you live in Landing, Kenvil, Berkshire Valley, Port Morris, Ledgewood or Succasunna, Roxbury is a unique township because of its great sense of community spirit," Raths said in the statement. "It is this sense of community that allows us to achieve great things.”
He urged residents to “care for each other and to remain optimistic about their future and the future of the township.”
Rilee said that the township will do what is necessary to find a replacement for Raths and have the new manager chosen "in time for a smooth transition."
After he leaves town hall, Raths wants to fulfill "a long-planned personal goal to hike the Appalachian Trail."